TOKYO >> Shigeo Nagashima, the first baseball player to be selected for the Order of Culture of Japan, told reporters he never thought he would win the honor.
“I can’t ask for a greater honor than this,” said the honorary manager of the Yomiuri Giants, 85, with a beaming smile that recalls his days on the pitch.
The Order of Culture recognizes contributions to culture, the arts, literature, science and technology. It is conferred annually by the emperor, and those chosen receive a life annuity.
After joining the Giants in 1958, Nagashima became a star player who became a symbol of Japan’s period of growth during the second half of the Showa era (1926-89).
During the Heisei era (1989-2019), he led the Giants, leading the team to several championships.
Nagashima was named director of Japan’s national baseball team for the 2004 Athens Olympics, but a stroke forced him to miss the Games.
“A lot has happened over the years. Various memories come back to me, like the nine consecutive victories of the Giants (1965 to 1973) and the game watched by the Emperor (Showa) in 1959, ”he said.
Nagashima was the Olympic torchbearer at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Games in July, along with his close friend and colleague Sadaharu Oh, 81, and Hideki Matsui, 47, whom he mentored.
He is the second athlete to be selected recipient of the Order of Culture; the first was swimmer Hironoshin Furuhashi 13 years ago.
“I hope this will stimulate not only the world of baseball, but the sport as a whole,” Nagashima said.